Indigenous leaders and organisations across the nation have welcomed the ALP’s recruitment of Pat Dodson, the respected Yawuru man from Broome, to the Australian Senate.
The man often referred to as the Father of Reconciliation will become the second Indigenous Labor senator to enter parliament in the past three years at the behest of the parliamentary leader.
Professor Dodson, who follows Julia Gillard’s famous “Captain’s Pick” Nova Peris into the plush red seats of the Upper House, is expected to replace outgoing West Australian senator Joe Bullock, a conservative Catholic who was just two years into his six-year term.
The announcement has been greeted with wide acclaim, with prominent Indigenous leaders and organisations saying Labor couldn’t have selected a better candidate.
Cape York leader Noel Pearson told The Australian: “Nothing floats unless Patrick is involved or leading it. I congratulate Pat and the Labor Party for giving one of the most important voices of our people a national platform.”
The chairman of the largest member-based Aboriginal organisation in the country, the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, said Professor Dodson’s appointment would bring integrity and experience to the Federal Parliament.
“For more than 30 years Patrick Dodson has been at the forefront of every debate shaping the future of Aboriginal people. From land rights and deaths in custody to reconciliation and constitutional recognition, Patrick’s vision, inclusiveness and wisdom have been a constant presence,” Mr Ah-See said.
“It is pleasing that the Labor Party has looked outside the square and recruited a leader of genuine national stature to one of its Senate positions.”
Mr Ah-See said that should NSW Deputy Opposition Leader, Linda Burney, be successful in her bid to enter the House of Representatives, the Federal Parliament would have by far the strongest representation of Aboriginal people in its history.
“Importantly, there will be Aboriginal representation on both the Government and Opposition benches regardless of which party wins the next election,” Mr Ah-See said.
Senator Dodson and Ms Burney would join Assistant Health Minister, Ken Wyatt, and senators Nova Peris and Joanna Lindgren in the Parliament.
“Hopefully this critical mass of Aboriginal Parliamentarians will be able to achieve real outcomes for our people,” Mr Ah-See said.
“NSWALC urges these parliamentarians to put their party differences aside and work together on the things we all agree on – land rights, closing the gaps in health, education and employment, reducing incarceration, achieving constitutional recognition and keeping our culture strong.”
Northern Australia Land and Sea Management Alliance chairman Peter Yu described the imminent appointment as having the potential to change the political discourse about Australia’s relationship with First Peoples and the future of Northern Australia.
“Indigenous people across northern Australia have been particularly heartened by the role that Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has given Patrick with respect to focusing on the Labor Party’s policies on Northern Australia,” Mr Yu said.
“Patrick Dodson, as Yawuru man from the Kimberley who has grown up and spent much of his life in the Northern Territory, has an unparalleled grasp of the complex challenges and opportunities facing all people in the north.”
WA’s deputy Labor leader Ben Wyatt told ABC Kimberley’s Fiona Poole that “this, for me, is one of the most significant fillings of a casual vacancy in the Senate in my lifetime”.
“To be frank, I was overwhelmed with delight,” he said.
Senator Bullock, who will finish up later this month, said he could not continue in his role as he strongly opposed Labor’s support of gay marriage. All Labor MPs will be forced to back the party’s policy by 2018.
Professor Dodson said he thought long and hard about the new role after receiving a telephone call from Mr Shorten seeking him out for the vacant senate position.
He said it was too good an opportunity to miss.
“It became clear to me that this was a good opportunity that should not be passed up,” he said, adding that he would be “trying to influence the national conversation”.
“It’s now time for me to step up to the plate and have a go trying to influence those same conversations, debates and public policies, from the inside as a member of the Senate representing Western Australia.”
The surprise nomination has caused some embarrassment in the WA branch of the party, with former WA senator Louise Pratt being pushed forward as a possible replacement for Senator Bullock by her supporters the night before the Dodson announcement.
Several of her supporters tweeted that Pratt was an obvious replacement for Bullock, completely unaware that their federal parliamentary leader had already done the deal with Professor Dodson.
Mr Shorten described Professor Dodson as a “truth teller, a powerful advocate for recognition, justice, equality and fairness for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said: “I congratulate Professor Pat Dodson on being nominated to fill the Senate vacancy for the Australian Labor Party in Western Australia. Should Professor Dodson fill the position, he will bring a great deal of political and life experience around First Australians to the Parliament.”
CORRECTION: The NIT initially ran a photograph of Bob Weatherall instead of Pat Dodson to go with this report. We apologise for the error.